Skip to comments.Guest won't leave: Charity, eviction begin at home
Posted on 01/16/2005 9:46:24 AM PST by BenLurkin
PALMDALE - The charitable tale of Joe Homeowner may make you think twice - maybe thrice - about allowing guests to stay in your home, be they friends, relatives or down-on-their-luck strangers. Joe, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution, said he lost control of his home a year ago to a man he didn't know.
The guest - a relative of a friend who assists Joe's son - was relocating to California from the East Coast and "needed a place to stay for a couple of weeks," Joe's sister explained.
But that "couple of weeks" has become the better part of a year, Joe's sister said.
During that time, Joe's home allegedly has sustained at least $20,000 in damage from the nonworking, nonpaying guest and his various friends and visitors, she said.
The damages to Joe's home, in the vicinity of 70th Street East and Avenue S, spurred complaints from neighbors and gave city officials grounds to post the property as "substandard," the sister said.
Palmdale code enforcement officer Vince Adams said the posting stemmed from what appeared to be an ongoing auto-repair operation at Joe's home and "a whole slew of cars" parked around the house, in the driveway and in the yard.
"It looked more like a business" than a residence, which did not sit well with Joe's neighbors, Adams said.
As a result of continuing complaints, the city posted the home as substandard and will begin charging Joe for the cost of future inspections, he said.
"The neighbors had every right to complain because the place has become an eyesore," Joe's sister said. "It is not safe, and my brother is afraid to be there, but he's also afraid of what might happen to the house if he isn't."
Joe's son is living elsewhere while efforts are under way to regain control of the property, the sister said.
Requests for help from Palmdale sheriff's deputies have brought no relief, she said.
"I was stunned" when deputies said they were powerless to force the guest - who had become a pest - to leave, she said.
"They say, 'It's kind of up to you to get him out,' " the sister recounted. "They say he has tenant rights and there is nothing they can do. They say my brother invited this guy into his home, so he has every right to stay there as long as he wants to."
The unwelcome guest reportedly has taken most of his belongings and departed several times, only to return weeks later and make his way back inside the house even though he has no key or permission to enter, Joe's sister said.
After consulting with an Antelope Valley eviction company that specializes in such problems, Joe learned he would need a court order to pry the guest out even though he has no contract as a tenant, the woman said.
The court-ordered eviction cost Joe nearly $500 to obtain and still gave his unwanted guest nearly two more months in the home before he is required to leave, she said in early December.
Meanwhile, Palmdale officials want Joe to make improvements to his property - improvements that are pointless until the unwanted guest is gone, his sister said.
The property professional who helped her brother said this kind of problem is common, Joe's sister said.
"This eviction guy said, 'Where do you think I make all my money?' This apparently happens all the time," she said.
"I understand if there is a law on the books and deputies' hands are tied because of that law, but my brother's rights are being violated and he's basically a hostage in his own house," the sister continued.
"We certainly didn't know there was a law that allowed this, and we hope that complaining about it will get that law taken off the books," she said.
"I can't understand how such a law ever got passed," Joe said. "If you let somebody stay in your house and they refuse to leave, there is nothing you can do but go through an eviction. If they move in for two weeks and send themselves a letter with their own name on it to your address, they live there."
"People like this, they are preying on other people's good intentions," Joe said.
Palmdale attorney James Charlton said Joe's quandary is the result of a number of court decisions and not the result of a particular law that can be amended or repealed.
"There is a variety of statutory and case laws that circumscribe this, but it has enough wrinkles that it isn't all enumerated in just one place," Charlton said.
"Nobody put a law into effect to benefit squatters" such as those described, he said. Nevertheless, such people have rights, the courts have ruled.
The problem is that, whether purposefully or inadvertently, Joe has granted his guest "possession" of the property, Charlton said.
After granting the right of possession, Joe cannot rescind that right without a court order, the attorney said.
"Possession is possession," regardless of Joe's original agreement to allow only temporary residency, Charlton said.
Possession is one of a "bundle" of rights that come with property ownership, Charlton explained.
Even with a signed contract that limits a tenant or guest's possession to a specific length of time, "the actual movement of that possession back to you is going to take a court process" if a tenant or guest refuses to leave, he said.
The reason a court order is required is to limit the possibility of violence, the attorney said.
"You won't find this written down in the law, but what we don't want is a breach of the peace, and there is nothing more likely to incite a breach of the peace than the belief that a man's home is his castle," Charlton said.
For that reason, peace officers are the only people empowered to remove a tenant or guest - even one who fails to comply with a court-ordered eviction presented by an owner or landlord, he said.
"The movement of 'possession' is court-supervised because it is one of those areas most likely to result in a breach of the peace," Charlton said.
Without a court order, peace officers are reluctant to become embroiled in these kinds of disputes, the attorney said.
"What the police don't want to do is be caught in the middle of a civil problem," he said.
Under the law, "Ownership is not possession," and many landlords and property owners confuse the two rights, Charlton said.
"Possession is something that is totally different, and it is a right that is not taken away without cops around," he said.
Under the law, a property owner may seek damages from a tenant or guest who refuses to leave, "but the bottom line is, the minute it is time for them to go, for whatever reason, and they won't, it's time for an eviction, and an eviction takes time to effectuate," Charlton said.
Once escorted from a property by peace officers, it becomes legally clear that a person no longer has a right of possession and can be prosecuted criminally for re-entering a property without permission, he said.
But until the person is escorted out, the facts are not so clear, Charlton said.
All homeowners have an underlying responsibility to maintain their property and prevent it from becoming a public nuisance, and that includes being careful about choosing the people they allow to move in, he said.
"If you wait a year instead of evicting them when they first start being a problem for your neighbors, you might have some responsibility," Charlton said.
"Underlying it all, though, is: We don't want gun play" or other forms of violence when one person wants to force another to move, he said.
The current interpretation of the law is an attempt to be fair to those on both sides of a dispute, Charlton said.
That interpretation "reflects the underlying principal of what the legislation has tried to achieve," he said. "Basically, that means they want cops around when people are being thrown out."
If law enforcement is not present, "Where will the escalation stop?" Charlton asked.
Alright, now, wait a minute...
Will it take a court order to be removed from your list?
Smarty pants. Snickering.
The lawyer variously calls them 'police', 'cops', and 'peace officers' - we can all guess his motives. Reference an earlier quote from the article: "This eviction guy said, 'Where do you think I make all my money?')
Maybe the escalation will stop when the squatter is dug-up from believably deep-enough in a mudslide that folks'll think he got caught in it? (flash floods and mudslides can be incredibly convenient things, under the right circumstances)
Go take the front door off and the garage door and let the tenant know that "new ones will be ordered soon..."
I could make things so unpleasant around here that they would run, not walk away.
Thank God, I'm a Country Boy!
I'd tell him to fork over some rent money or else ......
I have a tenant I'd like you to meet...
This is a fake! It is a fictional metaphor for illegal criminal Mexican aliens who break into our country and leech on US taxpayers and send cash back to Mexico. They are not wanted and do nothing to add to the US environment. Great story!
I don't belive this story, I think someone is pulling our leg.
Sounds to me like this guy is a first class wuss. You have the right to demand that a guest leave; why hasn't he done it?
Please put me on you ping list. Thanks.